Whether you’re overseeing a kitchen staff of seven or a staff of seventy-five, there is a lot that goes into making a day run smoothly. We had the pleasure of chatting with Michael Shapiro who works as General Manager of Food Service at Viacom Inc. for Restaurant Associates in New York City. Shapiro handles the food for thousands of people every single day, making sure that they have options, making sure it’s all fresh, staying up to date on trends, managing his staff and most importantly providing excellent hospitality.
With so much to oversee, you can imagine the workload can be stressful and full of surprises. Shapiro spends most of his day managing his managers, filling staffing gaps and making sure that everything runs smoothly. Restaurant Associates serves almost 1,500 employees at Viacom just for breakfast alone. If you are a restaurant owner you can appreciate the level of planning to wake up and have to serve 1,500 people. From early in the morning,Shapiro is making sure everything is prepped, making sure his managers are managing their line staff and making sure the day runs smoothly.
Can you imagine having to craft a menu for thousands of people? That is a decision from everything from their grab and go station to the Viacom executive dining room. Shapiro and his team are changing the menu daily. When they switch over from breakfast to lunch, all breakfast items are different from all the lunch items.. “Our café has nine stations and a handful of the stations change every week. We have a station called explore which offers an action station like stir fry, risotto, or sushi and it is constantly changing.
The cool part about this job is the ability to have free reign on whatever you want to make, if you want to introduce a chopped salad bar you can or a pasta making station, Cuban sandwiches, dumplings, you name it we can make it. “We always do fun stuff, we are always watching trends on Eater NY, Food Network, Grub Street, looking for what people are interested in. If people want Poke Bowls we give them that,” Said Shapiro. With one executive chef and two sous chefs, Shapiro and his team keep the kitchen up to date with trends to give Viacom employees the most diverse options possible.
When dealing with such a massive staff it is expected to have multiple people call out of work daily. Shapiro handles these gaps through what they call central staffing through the Restaurant Associates. “We do so many catering events in the city, when we need to fill gaps we put in a staffing request for whatever we need whether it’s two captains, a bar captain, six bartenders or14 butlers Restaurant Associates team provides us with quality staff that we get to know over time and end up coming back,” said Shapiro.
Shapiro oversees his team with four kitchens in the building; two that are in need of a re-design. “When the main kitchen was redesigned in 06, we weren’t doing the volume that we’re doing now. There could be a busy catering day where we also have another lunch for 150 on another floor, another lunch for 100 on yet another floor, and we’re going to do this all before hors d’oeuvres that starts at 4 o’clock. All that prep needs to happen during lunch so we’re kind of busting at the seams sometimes, so we need to figure out a place for more bodies to prep and cook,” said Shapiro. Despite the challenges that happen on a daily basis Shapiro and his team persevere, providing quality food for thousands of people.
If you are stopping by for a quick bite or sitting and socializing on a break or sitting down for a meeting in the executive dining room, Shapiro and his team have to provide diverse options for everyone on the spectrum. “It is all trial and error, we are not a restaurant, we are going to have failures, you are going to try out a station and it very well might be a complete failure. We have the ability to take it out, adjust it, and roll it back out,” Shapiro stated. When Shapiro and his team opened a new salad station, on the first day they had unforeseen problems, they adjusted it and fixed it halfway through the day. “What we had learned is that every single person in the building wants avocado on everything, it was a simple fix, but it made an astronomical difference,” Shapiro concluded.
Michael Shapiro and his team of managers, chefs, and line cooks work every day to keep entire buildings fed and manage to keep everyone happy. It takes a lot to oversee what goes into feeding buildings of people. Critical thinking, proper training, organization, and proper management are all necessities to keep such a massive operation running smoothly. Doing this all while avoiding the stress and endless hours that come with operating a traditional restaurant is a task that not all of us can do. After 15 years in the restaurant business Shapiro has switched gears and is now able to manage and help keep Viacom fed and still be able to go home and have dinner with his wife and his two-year-old daughter.
To learn more about Restaurant Associates, please visit their website.